Jim Richardson (Jordan Oosterhof) has been training for his shot at becoming a professional boxer his whole life in Punch. His father Stan (Tim Roth) has been pushing him since he was a child. It’s your birthday – who cares, time to train. You want to play with you friends? Nope – get your gloves on and hit the bag. This is both their dreams, even if sometimes it seems more like Stan’s than Jim’s. The Richardson’s don’t live a lavish life in their New Zealand town. Stan is raising Jim on his own while drowning himself in a bottle every night. Stan is barely managing to pay the bills, but enough to keep the lights on and let Jim focus on boxing.
Except Jim is a teenager who is growing, exploring, and learning about himself. He cannot solely concentrate on boxing, there is more to the world. He has an interest in photography, music, and making music videos. During this period of self-discovery, Jim meets Whetu (Conan Hayes). Whetu is a local Māori boy in his class who lives in a shack at the beach. Whetu is openly gay and is ridiculed and ostracized for it by his classmates, as well as the whole town. The two grow together with Whetu helping Jim realizes who he really is and come to terms with his sexuality. Jim starts to realize what is worth fighting for.
Welby Ings both wrote and directed Punch. The film is Ings’ feature length debut in both roles. Ings draws from personal experience and the experiences of those close to him for the film. This adds a level of realism to the characters and their journeys. Ings employs unique shots, framing, and close ups to try and establish a deeper connection to the characters. Music plays a significant role in Jim and Whetu’s lives and is featured prominently in the film. From scenes with an accompaniment of peaceful music to simply the sounds of the water – the score pairs wonderfully.
Punch is a story focused on two relationships involving three men – Stan, Jim, and Whetu. The relationship between a father and son in Jim and Stan and between two young men in Jim and Whetu. These three characters are not only central to the film, but they are the film. Roth has a storied acting career, while Punch is the feature-length debut for both Hayes and Oosterhof. A debut for a writer/director working with two of three novice leads was a bold choice, but it paid off. Roth, Hayes, and Oosterhof all excel in their roles. They show a range of emotions both glaringly and with little subtleties delivered perfectly. Punch is not for everyone and does feature some content more graphic in nature. For those looking for a heartfelt coming of age drama, Punch might be just what you are looking for.
Punch is in select Theaters, On Demand and Digital now.